Mazda 3 2020 Sportback: the gold standard
Bouncing back from a rather struggling 2019, the automotive industry is awash with new products introduced in the latter part of last year to help turn the tide and revitalize the local industry.
One of the many new and promising faces is the all-new 2020 Mazda 3, available in both traditional sedan, and sportier, more stylish hatchback form.
But is there still a demand for this vehicle segment? Mazda thinks so, as their volume seller remains to be the 3, and the latest one is the brand’s best effort yet.
We got a sneak preview drive of the car twice last year, one in prototype form sporting the ingenious new SkyActiv-X ignition-compression engine, and a variant closer to production later in the year at Mazda’s MINE Proving Ground in Yamaguchi, southwest of Hiroshima. The drive was rather truncated as we could tell the Mazda 3 was so much more capable of handling higher, faster speeds and cornering, but alas, the Japanese are very safety conscious.
Finally, out on local roads, the Mazda 3 shines: the 2.0 SkyActiv-G makes a very decent 152hp and 200 Newton-Meters of torque, coupled to the 6-speed automatic transmission. Corners are taken with absolute confidence thanks to Mazda’s G-Vectoring: it’s not meant to necessarily improve cornering dramatically, but rather, make the entire process feel more organic, fluid and natural, giving the driver more confidence by reducing throttle input by around 5 percent to pre-load the front axle once the steering wheel moves off-center, improving turn-in and corner entry. We asked why Mazda didn’t include any form of torque-vectoring, or increase throttle reduction, and they said it wouldn’t feel safe or natural. Point taken, as the boffins in white lab coats truly profess an almost spiritual Jinba Ittai driving experience.
The BOSE surround sound audio system is also impressive: a special driver-centric sound imaging software makes the driver feel he is right smack in the middle of the aural experience, rather than being offset to the left or right (depending on LHD or RHD markets). Of course you get Apple CarPlay, too, along with the excellent and intuitive multimedia system. There’s excellent fit and finish as to be expected of any modern Mazda, with very tasteful and stylish choice of colors together with high-quality materials that are soft and plaint. A rather large 365mm steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake, and gives extra leverage while decreasing steering effort versus a smaller steering wheel. Space is decent: it feels intimate and sporty, as with many modern Mazdas but it doesn’t feel cramped or tight and invasive at all. The back seats are fine for average-sized Filipinos even on long drives. Mazda pays a lot of attention to human-centric design in their cars and it shows: the steering wheel is spot-on center to your chest and shoulders, the steering column is aligned to your arms and shoulders, and the footwell, and pedals line up naturally with your feet splayed out in a resting motion. The result? Minimal stress even on long drives. Mazda is the absolute best in this regard, beating all other Japanese manufacturers, and can teach the snobbish Europeans a thing or two about the best, ideal, and most comfortable driving position. The seats are comfortable but offer excellent support as well; just be sure you don’t stain the beautiful red leather!
On the highway, it also makes the Mazda 3’s sport-tuned suspension, riding in tandem with 18-inch wheels and 215/45R18 Bridgestone all-season touring tires even more compliant and obedient to the driver. It evokes a big-car feel and confidence when you’re not in the mood, wrapping you in a cocoon of comfort and refinement when you just want to press onwards. But on winding roads, and in the mood for some fun, it handles with gusto, lapping up corner after corner, soaking up all the bumps, ruts and imperfections, and handling rolling terrain perfectly. Visibility in and out is good, and when parking, the 3’s around-view monitor / bird’s eye-view is perfect, and handy since the front chin spoiler is pretty low.
Perhaps the Mazda’s most polarizing aspect is the exterior’s posterior: the slab-sided C-pillars are truly a love-it-or-loathe-it element. Personally, I love the design, known as EVOLVED KODO (Soul of Motion) as it gives the Mazda 3 Sportback a truly unique character, akin to the Mazda’s designers weren’t afraid to take risks, and the brand recognizes that although it welcomes all, their cars, and the lifestyle they present isn’t going to be in everyone’s taste.
Style, substance, sportiness and refinement perfectly mixed, the Mazda 3 delivers a truly sublime driving experience no other car in this segment can compete with. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Mazda exemplifies the best in mass motoring, and their 3 is absolutely mint!
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